Critic’s Notebook: A Freaky Return to David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’

Twin Peaks - Kyle MacLachlan
Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME
David Lynch's new Twin Peaks series for Showtime received a standing ovation from the tough crowd at the Cannes Film Festival when the premiere episode screened there this year.

It took quite a while for the original Twin Peaks to go off the deep end. Which is pretty much the starting point for Showtime’s “continuation” of the legendary and revolutionary cult series from a quarter-century ago.

When even visionary auteur David Lynch, in his hard-of-hearing alter ego as the FBI’s Gordon Cole, shouts toward the end of the fourth hour, “I hate to admit this, but I don’t understand this situation at all,” he’s giving us permission to scream back, “Join the club, dude! What the hell!”

With a project this dense, strange and willfully opaque, which even after four hours (two on air, two online) has barely even revisited the haunted Washington burg and its memorably offbeat residents, it’s hard to know how to respond to, let alone review, a show that still has 14 long hours to go. (The third and fourth hours, currently available On Demand and online, will air on Showtime this Sunday, 9/8c, during the holiday weekend.)

What seems clear is that Twin Peaks: The Return will rank as one of TV’s most epic indulgences, so infatuated with its own fascinating and at times narcotizing weirdness that its value to the viewer will depend on their eagerness to ride along in the wake of Lynch’s surreal fever dreams. For the faithful, that will surely be enough. For the rest of us, who began opting out around the time of the theatrical release of the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, if they hadn’t already bailed in the reviled second half of Peaks’ second and final season on ABC, it’s a bit like the ill-fated guy watching the glass box opening a portal into Manhattan, waiting endlessly for something to happen. (And when he takes his eye off the box, something horrific finally occurs.)

Diving in on a weekly basis may require whatever hydroponic hybrid Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) has baked into his banana bread. Bananas is the word for what is shaping up to be the longest midnight movie ever.

And yet it can’t be denied that Lynch’s mastery of tone, from ominous disorientation to outright terror to gonzo comedy, is undiminished. Showtime has given Lynch an expansive canvas on which to play his nightmare games, and however many guises he wants to devise for Kyle MacLachlan, we’ll happily play along. The actor is in especially fine form as the presently and comically robotic Agent Dale Cooper, parroting anything he sees and hears, so detached from reality after his eons in the Black Lodge that he can’t even remember how to take a swig of damn fine coffee properly. He’s reminiscent of the Peter Sellers character from Being There in how everyone imprints their own needs and feelings on him, from a flustered casino manager to the hysterical wife (Naomi Watts) of Dougie, the Las Vegas lookalike whom Cooper has been mistaken for. (Yet another doppelganger?)

But just listen to the log, courtesy of the Log Lady (the late Catherine E. Coulson, seen here on oxygen), whose message includes the prophetic words, “Something is missing.”

At least in the first four hours, Twin Peaks is so obsessed with its own obsessions and bizarre diversions that it is lacking almost any emotional connection beyond that of nostalgia for a time before cable and streaming networks began pushing even further the boundaries Lynch broke back in 1990. Only in the fourth episode, when bad boy-turned-cop Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) begins to weep when he sees a photo of murdered beauty queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), are we reminded of the heightened feelings Peaks regularly evoked before it became overly enamored with garbled cryptic messages from a hallucinatory twilight zone. (And now, a talking tree!)

I’d like to think dour FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer) is on to something when he speaks in the third episode of “the absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence,” which is Twin Peaks’ sweet spot. Maybe it just takes time getting re-accustomed with this type of aggressive oddity. Or maybe I need to get baked like that banana bread.

Twin Peaks, Sundays, 9/8c, Showtime